Trinidad and Tobago officials have not yet reinspected the FSO Nabarima despite their own recommendation in October, 2020, that a follow-up inspection be done within one month. Environmentalists feared that the vessel –which was reported in August of 2020 to be listing dangerously with 1.4 million barrels of crude oil stored onboard– could pose a serious threat to the Gulf of Paria and the Caribbean Sea if an oil spill were to take place.
Cari-Bois News contacted Choy Felix, senior communications officer in the Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries (MEEI) which was responsible for putting together the three-person team that conducted the October, 2020 inspection. Felix confirmed that MEEI was still waiting on the necessary approvals to be granted from Venezuelan authorities through diplomatic channels being pursued by the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs. This, he said, would be necessary before a subsequent inspection could be done.
The MEEI’s position following the October 2020 inspection, was that the risk posed by the FSO Nabarima was minimal but made two recommendations out of an abundance of caution. The first was that Trinidad and Tobago officials conduct a follow-up inspection within one month (November 2020) and the second was that the process of offloading the crude oil from the vessel be sped up through the use of larger oil tankers. The objective of the recommendations according to Senator Franklin Khan, Minister of Energy and Energy Industries, was to “make sure everything remains stable so that there will be a continuity of monitoring.” He made this remark at a press conference following the report’s release.
Watchdog group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, which was the first organisation to sound the alarm on the status of the FSO Nabarima, put out a press release March 10, 2021, detailing what it believes to be the government’s misleading of the public and its failure to follow its own recommendation. The press release asks:
“Why is it taking our Government so long to meaningfully communicate with a neighbouring country? Why has there been this silence and secrecy in a matter of such grave public and environmental concern?”FFOS
The release describes the response of the respective governments of Trinidad and Tobago and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela as “slow and disjointed” and attributes this to a “representative of the failure” of the Bilateral Oil Spill Contingency Plan (1989). This agreement outlines the parameters of a joint response to oil spills in the Gulf of Paria and supposedly stipulates conditions under which either party may intervene across maritime borders according to the level of risk.
FFOS Takes Legal Action
FFOS, via a Freedom of Information Application, requested a copy of the Bilateral Plan to determine whether the government of Trinidad and Tobago had truly explored all available avenues in seeking the interests of its people. However, in its press release on March 10th 2021, FFOS stated that the Freedom of Information application was denied by the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs so as to avoid the prejudicing of Trinidad and Tobago’s relationship with Venezuela.
Due to this denial of the Freedom of Information application, FFOS has initiated legal action in an attempt to gain access to a copy of the Bilateral Oil Spill Contingency Plan (1989).
The statement reads:
“FFOS have taken the decision to instruct our Attorneys to serve onto the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a pre action protocol letter in the hope that the Ministry will release a redacted version of the document. FFOS do not wish to engage in litigation however we have a duty to do what is right to protect our natural capital inventory and so we will persist in fighting for the public interest regardless of the sacrifice or danger.”FFOS
The press release also accuses the government of misrepresenting the facts surrounding the offloading process to the general public.
A report published by Bloomberg contradicted the MEEI report, indicating that the oil removal process had begun in December, 2020 rather than October as reported by Minister Khan.
The Bloomberg article on December 16, 2020, states:
“PDVSA began transferring oil from the FSO Nabarima on Tuesday, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified discussing internal matters. The cargo is being unloaded onto a barge before being transported to a smaller crude tanker, they said. The operation will take up to two months, with the barge removing 30,000 barrels a day.”Bloomberg
How the crisis developed.
The Venezuela-flagged vessel has been operating on the Venezuelan side of the Gulf of Paria for 10 years, where it has stored oil procured from the Corocoro Field through a joint venture between Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PVDSA) and an Italian energy multinational called ‘Eni’.
The activities of the FSO Nabarima had been inconspicuous until watchdog group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea sent a letter to MEEI on August 24, 2020 raising concerns about the integrity of the vessel and demanding they take action to prevent a potential ecological disaster. Since then, FFOS had visited the vessel on October 16, 2020, which triggered a whirlwind of international coverage as the footage appeared to show the vessel listing, contradicting the Venezuelan government’s public position that the vessel was stable.
Actions taken by FFOS increased pressure on the respective governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, leading to the government of Venezuela granting permission for a team of T&T officials to inspect the vessel. This inspection, while not an in-depth assessment, represents the first and only time a non-Venezuelan team of officials has been allowed to independently inspect the vessel since its condition was first reported to have deterioriated.
While the matter of the FSO Nabarima has faded from headlines, several questions surrounding the integrity of the vessel and the offloading process remain unanswered.
Cari-Bois News reached out to the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on March 9 requesting an update on the status of the offloading process and is yet to receive a response
Cari-Bois News will continue to follow this report as more develops.